President Forever (2004)
Score: 8.5 / 10
For all of you political junkies out there, President Forever is a well-designed, in-depth election simulator that allows players to craft a strategy to lead George Bush, John Kerry or Ralph Nader to victory in the 2004 election.
For the benefit of our readers who live outside of the U.S., note that United States politics are extremely polarized at this point. About 40% of the country's voters think that George Bush is a right-wing nutcase, while another 40% think that anyone who doesn't like George Bush is a limp-wristed, unpatriotic elitist. Constructive dialogue between these two groups has all but stopped, and, increasingly, both sides are turning inward for news and information. Right wingers prefer programs slanted to reinforce their views through sources such as Rupert Murdoch's Fox News, while left leaning voters are turning to the Internet to read political blogs and articles from the foreign press. It's not a pretty sight, but given the intense level of interest this current election battle is generating, President Forever is a great way for voters, spoiling for a fight in either camp, to vent some spleen this summer.
The game does a good job of reflecting this polarization, while still giving players enough wiggle room to sway "undecided" voters in most states. The game begins 7 weeks before the election, when both candidates will be limited to $75 million in public funding to run their campaigns. The percentage of undecided voters in each state ranges from about 5% to about 12% at this point, but Democratic strongholds such as New York and California begin with a much higher percentage of "decided" Democratic voters, while states in the South, Midwest and Rocky Mountain regions begin firmly in the Republican camp.
Players can turn the tide in their favor by advertising state-by-state, traveling to different areas of the country, hosting political "barnstorming" rallies, raising national "crusaders" and state "foot soldiers" and giving policy speeches. Each candidate has a set number of points to spend on these activities per turn, and most activities take a toll on either your budget, your candidate's energy level, or both. Push your advertising budget too
hard at the beginning of the game, and you'll have little room to maneuver financially in the home stretch; push your
candidate too hard, and he may become tired and make a debilitating
gaffe during a rally or a policy speech.
The game's interface – a map of the U.S. with
"red" Republican and "blue" Democrat states
highlighted based on current voter opinion, and a set of menus allowing
you to spend your alloted points each day/turn – is simple enough to
learn in a few minutes, but deep enough to allow endless tweaking. For
example, a "platform" menu allows players to position their
candidate as right-wing, center-right, centrist, center-left or
left-wing on 18 different issues ranging from affirmative action,
business taxes and free trade to terrorism, military intervention and
same-sex marriage. Changing positions has the potential to alter your
candidate's standing for better or worse in specific regions or states,
but altering a position too significantly can generate negative press.
You can also spend your turn points on researching any of these issues, which can help give your policy speeches or advertisements a leg up on the competition. Throughout the game, the press has an unpredictable effect on which issues will become important during the race. If a story comes out about a spike in illegal immigration or renewable energy, for example, voter interest in the issue will increase, and will have a positive or negative impact on your campaign based on your platform position. Similarly, political action committees will randomly run ads for or against your campaign in specific states based on your positions, which will hurt or improve your momentum in those states.
The game may have benefited from the addition of a couple of
other variables. Record voter turnout during the early Democratic
primary contests indicates that many Democrats are chomping at the bit
to vote against Bush in this election. As such, it seems like Kerry
should have an edge over Bush in raising the game's foot soldiers, who
give candidates a "get out the vote" bonus in states where
they are raised and deployed. This could be offset by a Republican Party
edge on fundraising.
Also, while political campaigns generally force candidates
to move toward the center on certain issues, the default settings for
several of Bush and Kerry's platform positions seemed almost too skewed
toward the center. For example, few on either side of the political
spectrum would disagree that President Bush's tax policy is heavily
influenced by the right-wing theory of "trickle down"
economics, where giving tax breaks to corporations and wealthy investors
is thought to help stimulate the economy at large, ultimately providing
more job opportunities for middle and lower class citizens. Also,
President Bush has had to approach Congress several times already to
seek significant additional funds for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq,
yet he begins the game positioned as center or center-right on tax
policy issues and military spending.
Similarly, Kerry is positioned as a centrist on public
health care -- an issue where he is more left leaning -- and as an
advocate for completely unrestricted abortions -- an issue where his
position is more accurately center-left. Oddly, if you tweak several of
these platform issues at the beginning of the game to more accurately
reflect each candidate's historical record, their support initially
plummets in most states.
These are relatively minor issues, though. Overall, the game
does a really impressive job of emulating the many factors that come
into play during a Presidential election, downloadable from the Internet
at $12, its hard to go wrong if you like simulation games and are at all
interested in the outcome of this race.
By the way, if your name is Ralph Nader and you happen to be
a fan of Armchair Empire, please bow out now – you're making it
friggin' impossible for me to win this thing.
- M. Enis
(June 17, 2004)
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